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What You Need To Know Before Donating To Earthquake Relief For Nepal

Displaced family members with their children in a field opposite the airport in Kathmandu on April 27. Abir Abdullah/EPA/Landov hide caption

toggle caption Abir Abdullah/EPA/Landov

Displaced family members with their children in a field opposite the airport in Kathmandu on April 27.

Abir Abdullah/EPA/Landov

If you're thinking about making a donation to help Nepal in the wake of the devastating earthquake, now is the time to act.

Immediate aid is essential, says Center for Global Development fellow Vijaya Ramachandran, who has drawn her conclusions from looking at the earthquake in Haiti and other disasters. "The aid that comes in within the first weeks and even months is of a life-saving nature. That's the period when the local capacity is almost zero. So outside help is really important."

And while aid from the U.S. and around the world is coming in, that does not negate the need for additional help. Nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations can allocate their funds more flexibly, to react to immediate or unforeseen needs on the ground, says Julien Schopp, director of humanitarian practice at InterAction, a coalition of aid groups.

But the sheer number of organizations appealing for funds can be overwhelming. Here's a guide for the bewildered do-gooder.

Check out the charity. To begin with, look at the organization website and see if has a specific page for its Nepal efforts, says Schopp. If it does not, he says, "then the organization is not mandated to spend money there." Pursue further due diligence about an organization's track record at such websites as Charity Navigator and Guidestar. The Better Business Bureau has released a list of charities that are providing aid to Nepal and also meet the BBB's accountability standards.

Look at the organization's presence in Nepal. Make sure the organization has worked in Nepal and has people on the ground there, has relationships with the government and community — and has experience responding to natural disasters. "This isn't rookie camp," says Gary Shaye, senior director of humanitarian operations for Save the Children. "It's not a place to break people in." For an agency to set up shop in Nepal in the wake of the quake would almost certainly mean high overhead costs and a lack of familiarity with the country. So efforts by newbies, no matter how well-intentioned, could be less effective than promised in their pitch.

Follow the money. It goes without saying but it's still worth saying: Beware of appeals that ask you to send money directly to a personal bank account, which can happen not only in email solicitations but in social media campaigns. Don't by shy about asking questions. "Somebody writing a check should feel it is absolutely their right to know where this money is going and how it is going to be spent," says Ramachandran. If the website does not provide sufficient information, email or call. "Think of this as a considered purchase," says Shaye of Save the Children. And always ask for a receipt.

You can target funds for a particular purpose. Consider if you want your donation to go to a specific purpose in the immediate crisis — or in the rebuilding to come. The dropdown menu at InterAction's Nepal webpage will direct you to organizations in a number of areas: medical assistance, food aid, supplies for shelter, to name a few.

Don't pack up gently used clothes or other donations. "That's the worst thing to do," says Schopp. What you want to send may not be needed. Transportation to Nepal is iffy and cargo space limited. And if relief agencies buy local goods rather than relying on handouts, that will help the economy gain strength.

Be patient. The situation in Nepal is chaotic. Aid efforts haven't yet reached remote areas. "It's easy to put a journalist in front of rubble saying no one's doing anything," says Schopp. But that doesn't mean donations aren't being put to use. In Nepal, as with natural disasters in the past, getting aid and supplies to the right places doesn't happen overnight: "It takes a few days to really kick into gear."

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